Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Containing diffusion: the tobacco industry’s multipronged trade strategy to block tobacco standardised packaging
  1. Eric Crosbie1,
  2. Robert Eckford2,
  3. Stella Bialous1,3
  1. 1 Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
  2. 2 International Legal Consortium, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Washington, DC, USA
  3. 3 School of Nursing, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Eric Crosbie, Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94131, USA; eric.crosbie{at}


Objective To analyse the tobacco industry’s strategy of using trade and investment agreements to prevent the global diffusion of standardised packaging (SP) of tobacco products.

Methods Review of tobacco industry documents, relevant government documents and media items. The data were triangulated and thematically analysed.

Results Internal tobacco industry documents reveal that during the early 1990s, tobacco companies developed a multipronged trade strategy to prevent the global diffusion of progressive tobacco packaging and labelling proposals, including SP. This strategy consisted of (1) framing the health issue in terms of trade and investment, (2) detailing alleged legal violations concerning trade barriers, intellectual property and investment rights, (3) threatening legal suits and reputational damage, and (4) garnering third-party support. These efforts helped delay SP until 2010 when Australia became the first country to reintroduce SP proposals, followed by governments in the UK and New Zealand in 2012, Ireland in 2013 and France in 2014. Review of government documents and media sources in each of the five countries indicate the industry continues to employ this multipronged strategy throughout the SP policy’s progression. Although this strategy is tailored towards each domestic context, the overall tobacco industry’s trade strategy remains consistently focused on shifting the attention away from public health and towards the realm of trade and investment with more corporate-friendly allies.

Conclusion Governments seeking to implement SP need to be prepared to resist and counter the industry’s multipronged trade strategy by avoiding trade diversions, exposing false industry legal and reputational claims, and monitoring third-party support.

  • packaging and labelling
  • public policy
  • tobacco industry
  • tobacco industry documents

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Contributors EC, with guidance from RE, and SB conceptualised the study. EC collected the raw data and prepared the first and subsequent drafts of the manuscript. RE and SB contributed to revisions of the paper.

  • Funding This work was supported by the National Cancer Institute Training Grant 2T32 CA113710-11 and Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program (University of California) Mackay California-Pacific Rim Tobacco Policy Scholar Award 25MT-0033 and Dissertation Research Award 24DT-0003.

  • Disclaimer The funding agencies played no role in the conduct of the research or the preparation of this article.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.